I have visited Budapest two times and the reason I visited Budapest is interesting. On my first visit, we were four friends who decided to visit Vienna, Prague, Bratislava and Budapest in 10 days. Unfortunately, Budapest was the last stop on our trip. We were so tired after first three destinations, on our last 3 days in Budapest we were almost not able to walk and had to use hop-on hop-off bus to rest a little bit. After I returned back, I also saw that we had almost no good pictures in Budapest, so after 5 years I decided to visit Budapest once again to have a better experience.
I have really enjoyed my time in Budapest. If you have only 2-3 days (3 is better), Budapest fits perfectly for that option. You shouldn’t expect to see a developed city like the ones in Germany or France, but expect to have an interesting journey. First thing you should know is although Hungary is in European Union, Hungarian still do not use Euro and if you want to use cash, Euro is not accepted in most places. So, you should exchange your money with Hungarian Forint. Considering 1 EUR is 325 HUF at the time I last visited, it can be sometimes difficult to understand whether something is expensive or not. After 2 days, you get used to it, unfortunately it is most of the time the last day you will return back to your home or continue to another destination.
You should also know that Buda and Pest are in the past two cities. So, you may hear some locals or asking questions whether you are looking for something in Buda or Pest. Buda is the area on the left side with hills. Most tourist locations are located on Buda side. Pest is the other side and it offers you other tourist spots and shopping areas.
How to reach
If you are flying to, you will arrive at the airport which is very close to Budapest. Although it is close, there is still no metro access from airport to the city center. You have two options. You can either use bus no 200E or 100E. Bus 100E called Airport Express will directly take you to the city center which is the expensive option. Bus200E unlikely will take you to first station of Metro Line 3. That metro will also take you to city center.
My preference was bus200E, because my 48 hours transport card also includes free bus usage which was only valid in 200E. If you do not want to make transfers and paying 2-3 EUR more is ok for you, just choose bus 100E.
If you arriving by train, you may arrive one of the three train stations in Budapest. Although most of the train stations are easily accessible to metro, I recommend you to buy a ticket for “Budapest Keleti” instead of “Budapest Deli”. Sometimes, you may not have that option depending on where you come from, but I believe the neighborhood around Keleti is more secure and close to hotel areas, so my recommendation was Keleti for the last two times. I am saying this as a person who also had to use a train to Zagreb from Budapest Deli, so believe me J.
Where to stay
In Budapest, I do not think you will have many day trip options, so you do not have to be close to bus or train stations. However, for your arrival and departure still it can be a good option. You may find many hotels on “Rákóczi út” road or just check hotels around Astoria and Blaha Lujza Ter metro stations. I do not think staying in Buda side is better due to several reasons. First of all, the life goes mostly on Pest side. Although you may spend more than a half day in Buda, this will be just for visiting two top tourist spots and that’s all.
As a person who always prefer walking, I can say easily that in Budapest that may not be the best way. Especially on Buda side, there are many hills and using bus or metro can be the best way for reaching those locations. BKK is the public transportation company in Budapest and depending on your arrival and departure, I will recommend you to buy either 48h or 72h travel card. There is another card called Budapest card which is more expensive. So, be sure to check whether you are buying Budapest card or Travel card. Some activities and entrance to museums are included in Budapest card. If those activities and museums are in your interest, it may be better to prefer Budapest card. Your 48h card ticket starts at the moment you buy the ticket not when you use it. I hope, they will change this, because it really makes no sense.
I used tram, bus and metro in Budapest and it is one of the cities I used public transportation the most in Europe. In section “what to do”, I will try to tell nearby stations for each attraction or activity.
What to do
You will probably have either two or three days to visit Budapest. More than three days will give you opportunity to explore more and start to feel like a local, but in three days you will easily visit and do the things that can be done. I have also met with some people who visited Budapest only for 24 hours and proved me that it can be even done on a single day, but why to hurry?
One of the best things to start your day is visiting Buda side. If your arrival is afternoon or even in morning, do not go Buda side on your first day. It really gets crowded amazingly. Just set your alarm for tomorrow morning early and go there when there is almost no one to have the best experience. Here, I am talking about the Disney castle like place Fisherman’s Bastion or Halászbástya in Hungarian. Batthyány tér is the nearby metro station. You should either take a bus or walk uphill 20 minutes to reach there.
You will easily spend 3-4 hours there, because most of the museums, churches, castles are here. You should start with Fisherman’s Bastion and then you may continue with other attractions such as Buda Castle or Matthias Church in the area. Be sure to not miss historic Budapest Castle Hill Funicular which became a top tourist activity nowadays. When you continue walking to castle, I guarantee you will catch good viewpoints which offer you to see almost all bridges on the river.
Before continuing to Citadella which is the second most popular place on Buda side, I recommend you to visit Pest side. Although Citadella is close to castle area, I recommend you to visit that place during sunset while you are enjoying your drink. It is not very easy to reach Citadella. Bus 27 will take you somewhere close to Citadella. I recommend that option for people who do not want to walk uphills. If walking 20-30 minutes like hiking, you can directly walk from the entrance Erzsébet híd. However, I first arrived “Móricz Zsigmond körtér” metro station and then used Bus27 to reach Citadella. On my return, I used the pathways in a comfortable way. So, what is Citadella? It is actually a statue located on top of the hill, however that place also offers the best views of Budapest. I highly recommend you to not skip this picture spot.
Between your visit to Fisherman’s Bastion and Citadella, you will probably have 3-4 hours. You may spend your time in city center. The city center is formed in two-three parallel streets, but most of the shops and restaurants are located on only one street. It may be the best option for you to explore some souvenir shops. There are many metro stations nearby in city center, but the one most people use and recommend is “Deák Ferenc tér”. Depending on when you visit Budapest, the nearby park “Erzsébet tér” may have some activities.
I do not know how fast you will explore city center. So, here are few other advices. You may continue walking from Ferenciek tere to Nagy Vásárcsarnok (market hall). So, from here you may use Metro Line 4 to reach “Móricz Zsigmond körtér” which I mentioned above to reach Citadella by public transportation.
If you prefer walking on other direction from “Deák Ferenc tér” you will reach Szent István Bazilika. This is the probably one of the most popular places to visit in Budapest. I also loved the area around here. It is full of interesting coffee shops and restaurants. This area was the best option for me to have my lunch and dinner.
Next day should again start very early for you. This actually depends how you like. Here, I am talking about the most famous Széchenyi Thermal Bath. This is the most popular tourist activity in Budapest. There are many ticket options. If you want to relax, I highly recommend to arrive there early. So that, you will be more comfortable, there will be no locker constraints and the price will be cheaper. There are 15 indoor and 3 outdoor pools where you can enjoy. If you liked the experience, you may visit here on Saturday night to have a crazy party. The party is like scenes from American Pie movies and things may go wild after certain hour. If you have enjoyed your thermal bath experience, another popular one is called Gellért Bath. It is on Buda side and it can be easily accessible. Both have similar prices. If you think you will definitely like it and you do not have money constraints, perhaps you may stay on Gellert Hotel, so that it will be easy for you.
Széchenyi Bath is located inside City Park and you can reach there easily by metro line 1. It has direct access to bath with same metro station name. Metro Line 1 is also the best one and I recommend you to visit wooden stations. Going to thermal bath inside the park is not the only thing to do around here. Vajdahunyad Castle is also located here and I really enjoyed wandering around here and resting on beds with lake and castle view. 5 minutes walk will take you to Hösök Tere. It means “Heroes Square” and it is also another popular square in Budapest. Walking from Hösök Tere to city center is around 2.5 km. I enjoyed walking by seeing interesting houses and squares, but if it is not in your interest, you can again use metro line 1 to reach city center. Depending on how long you will want to spend your time on thermal bath, this will eventually take your half-day.
So, did I skip something? Yes.. The one you see on top of this post: Parliament. If you pay around 20 EUR, you have a chance to visit Parliament itself. The tour will start by walking from gold plated staircases and then continue by passing through Old Upper House Hall, Upper House Lobby and Dome Hall. The visit takes around 1 hour. Not only visiting inside, but also watching this amazing building from Buda side is also worth it. You may take the best pictures from Buda side, but before you go on Buda side either during day or evening, you should not skip visiting the most famous memorial: Shoes on the Danube. This memorial was made for the victims in World War II. These victims were asked to take off their shoes and they were shot and eventually felt into river. This memorial is a very good but also sad representation of that moment in the history.
Things left to be seen are nice to visit places and most people skip those places. The first one is opera. Opera is on your way from Hösök Tere to city center. There is also “Opera” metro station. The second one is the synagogue. It is also close to city center. The last one is visiting “Margaret Island”. This island is located on Danube and it has access from the bridge with same name. Most locals take their children to spend time here.
Airport & Transportation
- Airport – https://www.bud.hu/en
- Airport Express – https://www.bud.hu/en/passengers/transport/public_transportation/budapest_public_transportation
- Train Tickets – https://www.mavcsoport.hu/en
- Public Transportation – https://bkk.hu/en/news/
- Metro map – https://bkk.hu/apps/docs/terkep/metro.pdf